I am yearning to get away, but where to go during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 that is safe and free of the complications posed by state-to-state and international travel? We searched and ultimately decided to travel from our homes south of Boston to Cape Ann, about 40 miles north of Boston. It was the perfect getaway—energizing and fun, and with time left over for relaxation and quiet conversation.
A two-hour drive brought us to Cape Ann where we visited Gloucester, the oldest fishing port in America; the charming artists’ community of Rockport; and Ipswich and Essex with their fine beaches, famous fried clams, and the Crane Estate. We ate like gourmands, got some decent exercise and fresh air, and slept like logs.
Gloucester, America’s oldest seaport, was our first stop. In 1623, nearly four centuries ago and soon after the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, settlers arrived from England to fish the local waters with hopes of feeding the world. The work was difficult and dangerous, and fishermen were driven by their expectations of prosperity. These fearless men established an industry that has yielded countless millions of pounds of fish. Gorton’s Seafood is one of the companies that was established here 171 years ago. As a child, I well remember my mother opening a package of Gorton’s tasty fish sticks to feed us for lunch. Today Gorton’s remains a highly thriving enterprise and its giant blue and yellow sign proudly stands on a hill overlooking the main street.
Gloucester’s Harborwalk is a beautiful mile-long waterfront walkway planted with hundreds of dahlias of all colors and varieties. The iconic Fisherman’s Memorial statue stands prominently at the center of the walkway and honors 5,368 fishermen who lost their lives to the sea. It was sculpted in 1925 to honor Gloucester’s 300th anniversary and now stands as a proud symbol of the city. Its imposing eight-foot tall statue is modeled after a local fisherman and depicts him clenching the wheel on the leaning deck of his ship. An inscription at the base of the statue is from the Bible, Psalm 107:23, “They That Go Down to The Sea in Ships, 1623-1923”.
Not far away is a memorial to their wives, dedicated in August 2005 by the Gloucester Fishermen Wives’ Association. It is a poignant statue of a woman holding a young child in her arms; an older child stands close by, tightly holding onto her skirts. They are awaiting the safe return of their beloved father and husband.
Public art proudly conveys the town’s seafaring heritage. MosaicGloucester is a recent work by Gloucester artist Lesley Davison mounted on the side of the Americold building at 69 Rogers Street. It is a visual representation of Gloucester’s oral history using large fish-shaped panels in mosaics to tell stories about Gloucester’s past, present and future that the artist drew from her talks to locals. The colorful tiles depict marine life and local landmarks and cannot be missed as you drive or walk down Rogers Street.
A little further away is the Hammond Castle Museum, former home of Dr. John Hammond that was built in the late 1920’s. Approaching the castle from the walkway down from the parking lot, you encounter a stunning medieval and gothic structure that uses many architectural elements imported from Europe. Dr. Hammond was a famous scientist who stands among America’s most prolific inventors. He is credited with over 400 patents for toys, automobiles, cameras, radio, and early television, and the drones of today can be traced back to his research. He also held more than 40 patents for the piano and pipe organ. The impressive Hammond Castle is the home he created for himself and his wife, Irene, a talented local painter.
Directly east of Gloucester is the small town of Rockport, known for its beautiful beaches, rocky harbors, and scenic lighthouse. It attracts artists from all over the country and is home to the iconic Motif #1, a fishing shack that was built in the 1840’s and draws artists and art lovers to the picturesque harbor. The town claims that Motif #1 is one of the most painted and photographed buildings in the world. Bearskin Neck is located in the heart of town, and is named for the bearskin that was placed to dry on the rocks after the bear that attacked a young boy was killed. It’s alleyways are a great place to stroll and visit quaint one-of-a-kind giftshops, bookstores, candy-makers, art galleries, and jewelers.
Just north of Gloucester and Rockport is Essex, located in a gorgeous setting overlooking the rocky coastline. Essex claims to have invented the fried clam and a visit to Woodman’s Family Restaurant, established in 1914, is a must. Being there in September was a perfect time to enjoy some heaping clam plates with fried onion rings and french fries at a picnic table on the hillside behind the restaurant. But Essex is known for more than its clams. Its panoramic views of vast salt marshes lined with tall grasses attract outdoorsmen and canoers. The town also is loaded with antique, craft, and gift shops and, like so many of the towns up here on the North Shore, is a perfect place to search for that special gift to take back home.
Although Ipswich technically is not on Cape Ann, we went there to see the 2100-acre Crane estate with its winding salt marshes, miles of barrier beaches, and magnificent hilltop mansion. Originally the summer getaway for industrialist Richard T. Crane, Jr., the mansion is sited on what is known as Castle Hill. Crane manufactured world-class bathroom fixtures, and his brand of toilets, sinks, and bathtubs is a symbol of prosperity and highly reputed throughout the world. It is said that King Hussein installed Crane fixtures in his palace at Mecca, and the fixtures in the Drake Hotel and at Wrigley Field in Chicago were manufactured by Crane.
Not surprisingly, you will find Crane bathroom fixtures in the 59-room mansion, a great place to see how the wealthy lived in the early 20th century. The mansion and surrounding estate are maintained by the Trustees of Reservations. Take time to explore the restored rose garden, the maze, the formal gardens, and the magnificent Grand Allee, a long and hilly walkway reminiscent of the allees of Versailles in France. It leads to the sea and is bordered by marble statues, formal gardens, wilderness areas, and outdoor sculptures.
We decided that this three-day vacation warranted staying in a lovely upscale hotel on the beach overlooking Gloucester Harbor and Pavilion Beach. It was part of what made our getaway very special. The Beauport Hotel is beautifully adorned and provides top notch amenities and careful protections against the pandemic. Rooms are disinfected thoroughly after every guest and were not entered again by the staff during our stay. Instead, we were invited to leave used towels outside our door every day and received a new supply along with coffee, tea, and water. Masks and social distancing were required in the lobby, dining room, and outdoor patio, and furniture was cleaned thoroughly after each guest left. We felt safe there. The hotel’s 1606 Restaurant and Bar is a great place to enjoy an alfresco breakfast, wine and appetizers around the firepit, and lunch and dinner. Although there are many excellent choices for eateries in Gloucester, we enjoyed the luxury of staying in and taking many of our meals here in the hotel.
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If you go: Beauport Hotel, 55 Commercial Street, Gloucester, MA, a picturesque 94-room beachfront hotel with upscale amenities and unforgettable hospitality overlooking Gloucester Harbor and Pavilion Beach.
About the author: Elizabeth von Pier loves to travel. After she retired from her lifetime career in banking, she has been traveling the world, photographing, and writing. She has been published in the Los Angeles Times and many online travel magazines, and recently published a compendium of all of her travel articles, “Traveling with Elizabeth….Extraordinary Adventures Around the World”. She also is the author of “Where to Find Peace and Quiet in London” and is now working on another volume in this series, “Where to Find Peace and Quiet in Paris” which is expected in 2021. All are available on Amazon.com. When she is not traveling, Ms. von Pier lives in Hingham, MA.